Sixteen years on the heroic memories of Ground Zero's first-responders live on for New Yorkers
Sixteen years on it still feels like – September 11, 2001 just happened.
How could I forget? Every morning on my way to and from work I still pass the Franciscan friary on West 31st where victim No 1, the revered Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to the fire department, hurriedly changed from his Franciscan robe into his Fire Department chaplain’s uniform and rushed to help his beloved firefighters.
He was killed in the first collapse. A French camera crew caught the moment seconds before he died, as he prayed fervently for the men around him trying to save lives. He actually died of a heart attack, it was later determined, and became the symbolic first victim of the inferno that day.
He was a true man of God, a great friend to Officer Steven MacDonald and his son Conor and wife Patty after Steve was paralyzed from the neck down by a bullet while chasing down a criminal in Central Park.
That's how I mostly knew Mychal – showing up with the MacDonald family, making sure Steve met all the dignitaries at our events from President Clinton on down. He was impossible not to like.
There are banners across the road at the fire station opposite the friary, all of them remembering the fallen firemen. There is a new generation of firemen there now, looking impossibly young to me, but the bravery and camaraderie is evident even from afar. This is a close knit community.
Then there were the people I knew personally through our magazine Irish America.
Every year we celebrate the best of the Irish on Wall Street. On July 11, 2001 we selected the Word Trade Center's Windows on the World as our location.
I remember a friendly Irish employee taking me up on the roof that night and gazing out at one of the most spectacular views in America – Manhattan in all it’s glory, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and the New Jersey coastline.
At our party that night were honorees from Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Chairman & CEO Joe Berry and Executive Vice-President Joseph Lenihan who both died on 9/11. Another victim from the same firm, Chris Duffy, was the son of beloved Wall Street 50 honoree John Duffy.
At the top of Tower One, the breathtaking view from Windows on the World was the ideal setting to toast the many achievements of the Irish and their descendants in the U.S. Little did we know the disaster that awaited some of us standing on that very spot a few months later.
I think too of Corkman Ron Clifford who made it out of the burning building only to learn that his beloved sister and niece were in one of the planes that crashed. What a cruel fate.
Nothing good has ever emerged from the tragedy. The crisis in Syria today is a byproduct; ISIS is a direct result of it. The world changed for the worst that long ago day and we have all been deeply impacted by it.
What we can hang on to is the heroism of cops, firefighters, ordinary people that day. There is hope while such heroism exists.
* Originally published in 2010.